Outward Explosions of Images

These poems come from a book of a hundred poems about hands, and in the series, I was simply trying to exhaust the hand as poetic material and trying to prove that it's impossible to do. Some objects explode symbolically, and the hand is one-the more you open it up to interpretation, the further it opens. In the series, I tried to see how many things the hand could be-through associations of shape, action, idiom, etc.,-and how deeply it can infiltrate other cultural instances. In the first of these two poems, the ideogram, I wanted to evoke Walter de Maria's "Lightning Field"-the one-mile by one-kilometer field of lightning rods in New Mexico. Several of the famous photographs of lightning above it are clearly reminiscent of x-rays of hands, which are also suggested in a ghostly way by many of Henri Michaux's ideogrammatic drawings. In the second poem, where the hand becomes a lamp (shaped like the globe of a 1930s streetlight, for instance, or perhaps a hurricane lamp), I was interested in letting the image get out of control and become a fire, which then suggested the burning forest in the opera Norma, in which the chorus shouts "Guerra, guerra!" It's not important that a reader follow these lines of association-they are idiosyncratic. What is important is that the speed and range of association be sensible-that the reader also get to feel that outward explosion that any image charged with centuries of human investment can unleash.

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Cole Swensen